Since opening adjacent to the Long Beach Arena in 1978, the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center has undergone several expansions and renovations to become the campus that it is today. However, there are still more improvements to come, according to Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau.


Today, the convention center campus includes the Pacific Room at the Long Beach Arena, the Terrace and Beverly O’Neill theaters, exhibit halls, meetings rooms and outdoor event space such as the Terrace Theater Plaza and The Cove. The Cove is the newest event space, which opened to events in July.

December 4 marked the official grand opening of the 600-foot-long Rainbow Bridge, which connects the Pine Avenue convention center entrance to the performing arts theaters, meeting rooms and arena on Seaside Way. The $10 million pedestrian bridge includes 3,500 programmable LED lights, which will loop 10 different five-minute shows every night. (Photograph courtesy of the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau)


“With the paintings from POW! WOW! artists and the other elements, it really does feel like a cool space. I like it because it has an authentic feeling to it,” Goodling said of The Cove. “As one client said, they were shocked to find an underpass turned into a special event space. I think because it is an underpass and you have all the brick and all the cement and you have this cool lighting, it’s just very original and unique.”


The Cove is the result of a $1.5 million investment to transform the streets and underpass area on Seaside Way, just outside of the Seaside Meetings Rooms below the Terrace Theater. The space features six crystal chandeliers hanging from the concrete overhead, special light fixtures designed to look like barnacles, marine motifs on the walls, ceiling and pillars, and 110 stage and pinpoint lights.


Being located directly on the street, The Cove allows for food trucks to drive right up to the event space for guest engagement. Goodling said this perk is especially appealing to younger party planners and has been a huge success. With a chuckle, Goodling joked that spilled drinks and dropped food is not a big deal since it is a street and not carpet or tile.


Since opening, Goodling said six parties have been held at The Cove, including one hosted by John Molina and two convention opening parties: the National Association of Port Authorities and the International Association of Emergency Managers.

The $1.5 million renovation of the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center fountain in the Terrace Theater Plaza is scheduled to begin in January. The renovation will transform the fountain into a Bellagio-like attraction featuring choreographed water, light and music shows nightly. The project is expected to be completed by May. (Image courtesy of the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau)


“The response from those who have used it has been that they’ve just fallen in love with the place. [The Emergency Managers Association] had an opening party there and they said it created such a buzz for the entire convention and started it off perfectly,” Goodling said. “These special event spaces are doing what we had hoped they would do and that’s just creating an impactful experience that people want to talk about and want to share on social media.”


Adjacent to The Cove and spanning more than 600 feet, the Rainbow Bridge connecting the Pine Avenue convention center entrance to the theaters, meeting rooms and arena on Seaside Way opened to the public yesterday, December 4. According to Goodling, weather delays had pushed back the completion of the bridge; however, it was opened to certain conventions in the latter part of the year for attendees to use, because it had been promoted to their convention planners.


The feedback has been really good from the conventioneers,” Goodling said. “It really is a functioning piece of art. It’s built to be a cascading wave and it’s modeled a little bit after the High Line in New York. It really is a great pedestrian bridge.”


Named to follow the theme of Rainbow Harbor, the more-than-$10 million bridge includes 3,500 LED lights the size of a quarter, which can be individually programmed. Lighting programmers are currently working on 10 different five-minute shows to run in a cycle every night. To add to the ambiance as pedestrians stroll across the bridge, wireless speakers will play the same music as the convention center’s next renovation – the Terrace Theater Plaza fountain.


The convention center fountain, built just off Ocean Boulevard more than 30 years ago, has never been renovated. This will all change in January, after the removal of the Christmas tree, when a $1.5 million renovation is scheduled to begin. The renovation includes a full upgrade and will culminate in water and light shows accompanied by music playing through wireless speakers, giving the plaza a mini-Bellagio vibe, Goodling explained.


“There will be constant shows that are choreographed with the music,” Goodling said. “We’ll have different shows every month. There will actually be shows that celebrate the different holidays and things like that.”


The pool configurations will remain the same and nozzles will be added to the upper fountain to activate the entire space with water and lights, according to Goodling. The shows will run every night and can be customized for special events and parties to light up in colors requested by the planner. The renovations are expected to be completed by May, according to Goodling.

Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center General Manager Charlie Beirne, left, and Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau President and CEO Steve Goodling have worked together over the past several years to transform once ordinary or unused places in and around the center to active, exciting event spaces that have drawn national recognition from meeting planners, event organizers and meetings publications. (Photograph courtesy of the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau)


Recently, the Terrace Theater Plaza has been used more and more as a special event space, even hosting the Kings of Chaos musical performance during this year’s Long Beach Grand Prix. With the capacity to host up to 5,000 people, the completion of the Rainbow Bridge and the fountain renovations, Goodling said the plaza’s appeal is only increasing, making it the campus’s third turnkey event space.


The Rainbow Bridge and plaza fountain projects are financed through the city’s Tidelands Funds. The Cove was financed by the Tidelands Funds, the CVB and SMG – Private Management for Public Facilities.


Another forthcoming improvement is a $600,000 investment to convert the exhibit halls to LED lighting, which is more cost effective while enhancing brightness. Goodling explained that the project is to be completed by February in time for a carpet convention; the LED lighting will allow attendees to see the true colors of the carpet, something the current lighting is not bright enough to accomplish.


The Pacific Room, The Cove and the Terrace Theater Plaza are all scalable to be able to accommodate from 100 to thousands of guests during events, according to Goodling. This feature allows for more diverse event bookings and makes Long Beach a more appealing destination for events and conventions. He noted that these investments are beneficial in terms of Long Beach’s economy, citing that the Pacific Room alone has generated over $180 million in conventions because its versatility resonates with planners and because it saves them money.


“Stepping back and looking at it, we’ve had clients say, with all of the social spaces we have created, that it’s very atypical of a convention center to have people collaborate and connect and catch up with one another,” Goodling said. “All these improvements have helped to differentiate the facility from others. That is very important. These enhancements have helped us become more competitive, while providing a really great experience.”

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.